Leahy: Victims Need Action On VAWA Now

WASHINGTON (Wednesday, July 25, 2012) – Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the lead author of the bipartisan Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act, spoke on the floor Wednesday about Congress’s urgent need to put victims ahead of partisanship and renew this vital program’s charter.

Leahy reminded colleagues that the Senate bill remains the strongest and most bipartisan solution to helping victims of domestic and sexual violence. While the Senate passed its measure with 68 votes in April, House Republicans have refused to take it up and chosen instead to support their limited and politically-motivated bill. Leahy called on House Republicans to drop their blockade and quickly approve the Senate bill before Congress recesses next week for August.

“We had hoped the House Republicans would follow our demonstration of bipartisanship by quickly taking up and passing the Senate bill,” said Leahy.  “Instead, they put politics first.”

House Republicans have rejected critical protections for victims included in the Senate bill, despite the fact that dozens of rank-and-file Republicans have voiced their strong support for the provisions. Leahy called on House Republican leaders to listen to their colleagues and to advocates in the field and take up the Senate bill.


“Victims should not be forced to wait any longer,” said Leahy.  “The problems and barriers facing victims of domestic and sexual violence are too serious for Congress to delay.” 

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Statement of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT),

Chairman, Senate Committee on the Judiciary

July 25, 2012

Nearly eight months ago, Senator Crapo and I joined together to introduce the Leahy-Crapo Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2011. We put partisan politics aside and worked across the aisle to draft a bill that put victims first.  An overwhelming majority of the Senate, Republicans and Democrats alike, joined us in that effort, and this common sense legislation passed with a remarkable 68 votes. That is a rare feat in the Senate today and it sent a clear message – stopping domestic and sexual violence is a priority and we will stand together to protect all victims from these devastating crimes.

We had hoped the House Republicans would follow our demonstration of bipartisanship by quickly taking up and passing the Senate bill.  Instead, they put politics first.  They drafted a new bill, intentionally stripping out protections for some of the most vulnerable victims, including immigrants, LGBT victims and Native women. Their bill also lacks key provisions to make campuses and public housing safer.  They rejected the input of law enforcement and victim services professionals who tell us these protections are desperately needed to save lives. 

The actions of House Republicans were too much even for some of their own party. Nearly two dozen House Republicans, including the chair of the crime victims’ caucus, stood up and voted against this restrictive House bill. 

I wish those who drafted the House bill could have been with me last Thursday to hear from Laura Dunn, a courageous survivor of campus sexual assault who made an impassioned plea to include the Senate provisions the House stripped out and for Congress to do all it can to protect all students on campus from the kind of violence she encountered.  More than 200 survivors of campus violence at 176 colleges and universities joined her in an open letter to Congress calling for the immediate passage of this critical legislation. I ask unanimous consent that a copy of that letter be included in the record.

Now the House Republican leadership is hiding behind a procedural technicality as an excuse to avoid debating the Senate bill. This is nonsense. The Speaker of the House can waive the technicality, called a “blue slip,” and allow the House an up-or-down vote on the bipartisan Senate bill at any time.  

I have been consistently calling for House action on this legislation since the Senate passed its overwhelmingly bipartisan bill three months ago. Last month, Senator Murkowski and I wrote a bipartisan letter to Speaker Boehner, again urging him to allow an up-or-down vote.  And last Thursday, five House Republicans followed suit, calling on Speaker Boehner and Majority Leader Cantor to take up the Senate-passed bill to resolve the “blue slip” problem.

The Speaker’s hands are not tied on this matter. He is choosing to hold up this bill and those efforts must stop. A New York Times editorial earlier this week entitled “Delay on Domestic Violence” put it well:  “Mr. Boehner’s leadership could break the logjam — but that, of course, would also require his Republican colleagues to drop their … opposition to stronger protections for all victims of abuse.”  I ask unanimous consent that both letters and the editorial be placed in the record.

Victims should not be forced to wait any longer.  The problems and barriers facing victims of domestic and sexual violence are too serious for Congress to delay.  In my own state of Vermont, more than fifty percent of homicides are related to domestic violence. Fifty percent.  That is simply unacceptable. We know how to identify these cases early; we know how to intervene and to stop these needless deaths. And the Senate-passed bill includes important new tools for law enforcement and communities all over Vermont to do just that. But until the House Republican leadership stops playing games, those resources will not reach the people who need them now. And lives will be lost. Enough is enough.

It is time to put aside the politics that pick and choose which victims of abuse get help and which are ignored. It is time for the House to take up and vote on the bipartisan Senate bill - a bill which protects all victims. Domestic and sexual violence knows no political party.  Its victims are Republican and Democrat, rich and poor, gay and straight, immigrant and citizen alike.  Helping these victims, all these victims - whether they are in Vermont, California, Alaska, or Iowa -- must be our goal. Their lives depend on it and they are waiting on us.

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